Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Greece: the Willful Teenager of Europe

I love Greece, and I love the Greek people. They are warm and friendly and proud and intelligent. And they are as crooked as the day is long. That is part of their culture. So when Greece joined the EU and somehow squirmed in to the Eurozone, Europe should probably have known that it could cause a problem one day. Greece is like a willful teenager who is making drugs out of cough syrup in his bedroom. You ignore him and one day he is under arrest for running a meth lab. You had no idea, you say. But deep down you did.
The Greeks have known forever that their civil servants and government are crooked. But they shrug their shoulders and get on with their work. They have their families and their friends and their holidays to pay for. I worked for a Greek-nationality shipowner where I learned how easy it is to cheat the system. His office was in London, his ships were registered in Liberia, his crews were Venezuelan - paid in cash (often by me) - and only the Captains were Greek. Usually a family member.
A Greek friend once told me that there are no homeless Greeks. Someone in their family will take them in. It is a matter of pride. (All of the homeless that we saw in Athens were Albanians, according to him.) So if you have to cheat the system a little or give your brother a job that he is eminently unqualified for, that's what it takes to get by.  Their motto should be 'whatever it takes'.
And now the cushiest of cushy numbers, Greek union jobs, are under threat. The government wants to - gasp! - cut wages and hours. Strikes are rampant. But inevitably some union member's brother or father or sister works for the President or the Greek Parliament or a person of power, and words will be had. And things will go back to 'normal'. Meanwhile Germany will pretend to be Ben Bernanke and bail them out. Maybe the Greeks are more like Goldman Sachs than like teenagers.........

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